5 Ways to Unwind and Be Kind (to Yourself)
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By Shamash Alidina, Special to Everyday Health
The first time I met stress was at graduate school. I was studying chemical engineering. The only reason I’d chosen the subject was because of my love of science. But when I applied for a summer job, I found myself sizing pipes for an oil rig in Indonesia. I didn’t want to spend my life making oil rigs! The experience in that office wasn’t pleasant. In fact, I used to clock out at lunchtime for hours to avoid the boredom. And at the end of the month, my paycheck was a negative number! I’d taken so many lunch breaks, I owed the company money rather than vice versa.
The stress for me then, at 20 years old, came from a combination of workload and confusion. I didn’t know what to do. I was half way through a degree that I didn’t enjoy, and working toward a job I knew I didn’t want. Then my fortunes changed. I came across a class in practical philosophy in which the teacher guided a short mindfulness meditation. I was pleasantly shocked. Just a short few minutes and I’d gone from feeling frazzled to focused. Wow. Why hadn’t anyone taught me this technique years ago?
Mindfulness is a simple and powerful way of easing your stress. There’s no harm in a bit of stress. And if you can handle it, there’s no harm in a lot of stress, as long as you know how to take a break from the pressure regularly. But everyone’s different. And no matter who you are, you’ll be faced with challenges in life’s journey. When that next challenge comes along, what resources do you have to bounce back? Mindfulness is a great tool, not just for bouncing back from your latest setback, but for living in a more conscious, awake, and fulfilling way.
If you’ve joined a mindfulness program, or are reading about mindfulness but struggling to engage in the meditation practice, here are a few tips for you:
- Be clear at the start of your mindfulness practice that you’re interested in the present moment, not the past and future. If you’re valuing your thoughts about the past, which is dead and gone, or the future, which is ultimately uncertain, then your mind is bound to wander around a lot. Be clear about your intentions within yourself to get yourself off to a flying start! Yes, your mind might wander, but you’ll begin to dip into that peaceful silence between the mental chatter.
- Enjoy your mindfulness practice!This is a time for rest, renewal, and rejuvenation. Discover how you can make mindfulness a joy for yourself. If you’re doing a sitting meditation, get nice and cozy! Wrap yourself in your favorite blanket. Cuddle your favorite teddy! Do whatever you need to feel happy in your space.
- Turn mindfulness into "kindfulness."Be as kind as you can to yourself, as my favorite teacher, Ajahn Brahm, says. If you’re doing mindfulness of breath, be aware of your breathing with a sense of compassion, warmth, and friendliness. As if you really care for your breath. As if each breath matters – because it does! Don’t be hard on yourself. And if you’re asking me how to be self-kind, the answer is, by practice. Start small and build from there. Start with hugging yourself – that’s a nice, easy way into self-kindness. I’m serious!
- Practice mindfulness meditation with a friend.This single tip alone is immensely powerful. Perhaps you have a friend in the local area who is also passionate about mindfulness. Suggest a time to pop over and meditate together. Not only will it grow and nourish your mindfulness practice, the habit is sure to deepen your friendship too.
Shamash Alidinahas been helping people manage stress using mindfulness for more than 14 years. He is the author of The Mindful Way through Stress and the bestselling . Based in London, he teaches mindfulness internationally to health professionals, executive coaches, and the public. He also offers mindfulness teacher training programs online.
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